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Technology and Law Reviews

Over at The Conglomerate a discussion is raging on the ethics of "expedited review." Since Prof. Smith has already explained it so well, I'll just quote him:

Here's how it works: the author submits her paper to tens of journals (say, 40-100) and awaits offers. When the first offer arrives, often from a journal ranked in the lowest quartile, the author contacts all or some of the journals ranked above the offering journal to request expedited review. The author explains that she has an offer outstanding from the ________ Law Review, but would be pleased to ditch them in favor of higher-ranked journal. The only catch is that the higher-ranked journal needs to respond before the offer explodes. In some instances, this might be a couple of weeks, but in other instances it may be as short as 24 hours.

Heidi (infinitely more qualified to talk about this, since I'm increasingly less thrilled with the entire "law review" method of legal scholarship) hasn't weighed in on this yet, but in my opinion the "expedite" process seems to be one more extension of the legal tendency towards heirarchy, another status game. On the one hand, authors have an incentive to move their offers up the ladder through the use of expedite requests; on the other hand, journals have an incentive to use "exploding offers" to discourage it. There's an amusing Reg State question here, but the whole thing seems to create a lot of extra work for everybody.

I've recently been looking at the peer-reviewed production process used by the rest of academia. Mostly I've been reviewing it because A. N. Other Law Review asked me to look into ways of allowing them to accept online submissions, and I came across the Open Journal Systems project of The University of British Columbia. It's a cool piece of kit: it will generate your entire journal online, handle the workflow process for peer-review, and send email notifications to everyone involved. Setup time was a bit over an hour for me, but would be about 15 minutes if you weren't trying to kick the tires too hard, and the software is wonderfully free.

What it won't do is cater for the idiosyncracies of the law review process: there's no feature to easily handle expedites, you'd have to set your staff members up as "reviewers," and many law reviews would have to shift their work processes a bit to use the software comfortably. (Then again, given what it allows and the low price, it may be worth looking into.) And the more that I look at how peer-reviewed journals handle these things, the more I wonder about the inefficiencies inherent in the standard law review editing process.

Of course, the software's open-source, so it wouldn't be difficult for a dedicated law review to tweak it out of its peer-reviewed simplicity. Better yet, the next version is planned to support multiple journals under one implementation: in other words, all of a law school's AnyLawSchool Journal of Law and Something Else could accept online submissions and publish online, assuming they were willing to work together and collectively pay for the hosting costs. (Actually, the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications has already modded a prior version of OSJ to not only run multiple journals, but allow subscription by credit card. I couldn't get its version to install properly within the hour I was willing to spend testing, but the problem is obvious and would take no time to solve.)

I have a sandbox version of the software up and running: if you're the sysadmin of a law review and would like to have a look, just email me and I'll give you a password, so long as my bandwidth holds up.

Right. Didn't I have some reading to do at some point?


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» Exploding Offers from De Novo
A. Rickey moves from a Conglomerate discussion of expedited review of journal submissions to a promotion of software. I've dealt with some expedited reviews; they mean that instead of the usual week or more allotted to read and comment on... [Read More]

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